Saturday, September 10, 2016

In short: Observance (2015)

Parker (Lindsay Farris) has lost his young son to illness, ending up not only with a dead child but also a marriage in its last throes and a six figure hospital debt. So he takes on a surveillance job that looks even more shady than this sort of thing generally is.

Parker is to move into the run down building across from his surveillance subject, a woman whom he initially only knows as Subject 1 (Stephanie King), and observe her from there for a few days. He has no idea why he is supposed to watch the woman, nor what he can expect to happen. Some research shows her name is Tennneal, that she works in some kind of research institute she never seems to actually visit, and that her potentially abusive boyfriend (Tom O’Sullivan) is the youngest member of a once politically influential family whose star dimmed after the mysterious death of one of their employees.

Something doesn’t feel right about the whole affair, and the longer Parker stays on his post, the more peculiar his surroundings become: there are strange noises, disturbing dreams, small wounds that won’t heal, and worse things to come. Of course, given his personal situation, Parker might just have a bit of a breakdown; or something very different indeed might be going on.

Given the consciously obscure way Joseph Sims-Dennett’s Observance operates for most of its running time, with symbols and scenes that usually lend themselves to more than just one interpretation, it will come as no surprise that the answer what really is going on here is an ambiguous one. Watching the film, I did at times feel rather lost, as Parker does, never quite grasping everything that was going on, nor exactly what it might all mean. To me, that’s not a bad thing but rather one of the film’s attractions; I can see a different type of viewer becoming quite annoyed by this approach, even though a change of perspective late on in the film does suggest a direction where the “truth” of the film’s fiction can probably be found.

Whatever the exact meaning of the film is – and even the question if it is psychological or supernatural horror is a question of interpretation – there’s quite a bit else going on here that’s exciting. With simple methods Sims-Dennett creates a disquieting mood that isn’t based on shock effects – though there are some of these too – but on small shifts in environments and sounds, purposefully confusing edits, and visual symbols that have something at once archetypal and ambiguous. The film creates a sense of claustrophobia and increasing wrongness I found pretty hypnotic, all the more so thanks to an appropriately disturbing performance by Farris who has to carry about eighty-five minutes of the film and does so wonderfully.

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